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on October 13, 2004
You might think that you would have to be interested in vanilla, cooking, or maybe Madagascar, or Mexico, or some of the other exotic locations visited in this book in order to enjoy it. If so, you are wrong. Vanilla does give enticing glimpses into these places, but this book has merits beyong the great travelogue it is.

This book is many stories in one. It is a book of history; economy; theft; magic; and love. Mr. Ecott's writing is an exciting mixture of anecdote and explanation that has a pace more often found in well written fiction.

His description of his meal in Tahiti will leave your mouth watering, and you will see the inside of the traders shacks, with Ecott so skillfully recounting the detail you will have to remind yourself it is his memory, and not your own.

Add to that the fact that is a fascinating basic reference work for a subject horribly difficult to find information on, and you a have a real winner.
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on January 6, 2005
Vanilla is one of the most popular flavoring spices in the world and is even a major ingredient in perfumes, paint and tires, but the story of vanilla is a botanical mystery that only a twelve-year-old African slave solved. Vanilla would not bear fruit outside of its Mexican origins, until the slave developed a process for cultivating it and turned it into a labor-intensive agricultural crop. Lively, revealing, and enthusiastically recommended reading, Tim Ecott's Vanilla: Travels In Search Of The Ice Cream Orchid, should not be missed by any kitchen cook, gourmet diner, or botanist.
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This author attacks the history of vanilla like a seasoned investigative reporter. Vanilla is produced in humid climates (it likes moist heat) such as Seychelles, Mauritius, Mexico, and Madagascar. Those who grow it, buy it, and sell it sort of live in a secret society. In many cases I felt like the author was describing the inside workings of a drug cartel. Chapter 12 about ice cream and perfume was my favorite chapter because it summed up vanilla's history and use.

I purchased this book on a whim at "bookoutlet" because I love vanilla. Although I did find the story a bit flat sometimes, I enjoyed living vicariously through him in his "search of the ice cream orchid."
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on March 26, 2015
This book is everything you hope for on such a fantastic topic... it gives an incredibly edifying and educational view of the history, economics, horticulture, and industry of vanilla, good, bad, and unique. But what truly makes this book stand out from so many others like it is the author's writing style and shared experiences. This author did not just read as much as he could about vanilla, then write about his research. Tim Ecott clearly spent much of his time deeply ingrained and "on the ground" in the world of vanilla: in the gardens and plantations, with the people, and the places where these magical beans are processed, with manufacturers of vanilla products, and on the historical grounds where vanilla had made a mark. In this book, you are not just educated on the world of vanilla, you are transcended INTO the world of vanilla through his visual eloquence and expressive passion. If you have even a little bit of passion for the topic of spice trade and history, this is not just a must read, but a treasure on your bookshelf.
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on March 25, 2011
First of all, a bit of a disclaimer: i adore history books that look at a culture or a time period through the lense of one thing. They add a focus and a storyline to what could otherwise be a confusing jumble of dates and names. This is one of those books, so i started out well disposed.

This book follows Vanilla from the boring every day foods we take for granted, through the worlds of haute cuisine, and into international finance, banditry, murder.. and questions of fair trade and historical treaties. You may never look at an item with Vanilla (or its artificial substitute, Vanillin) the same way again. It is, after all, in everything from ice cream (obviously) to your diet cola (really?) and the price fluctuations of Vanilla concern multi national concerns in ways you would not anticipate.

Like many books of this genre it can be a bit dense reading, and sometimes the jumps of place/time/culture can be a bit hard to follow, but all in all its fairly well organized. The problem of course is that the TRADE in vanilla jumps all over, crossing the same places and people over and over again, and this is just naturally a bit puzzling. I learned a lot about varieties of vanilla, why one is better in specific use than another... and how they are grown.

This book would be useful as a reference to any cooks, but especially to any bakers. Its obviously great for the history buffs, but it ALSO has a great interest n anyone researching how our food is grown/produced and the history of the slave trade.

Since almost all of us consume vanilla or its artificial substitute DAILY i suspect this book will be more interesting to most people than some of the other ones i liked, such as "Cod" or "The Big Oyster" or "Orchid Fever". If you like this one i suggest trying "a History of the World in 6 glasses" and "Salt, a world History" next.
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"Vanilla is the most labour-intensive agricultural product in the world." ~ pg. 2

What does a princess falling in love, rusting cargo boats, Queen Elixabeth I, the Aztecs, murder and Coca-Cola have in common. They are all part of the intriguing history of vanilla.

This book has interesting facts, like how Indonesian vanilla is better to use when baking cookies. There is a description of a visit to an ice cream factory and descriptions of a complex curing process to produce the vanilla we use in baking.

Tim Ecott meets with a reclusive botanist who is an expert on vanilla and paints a vivid portrait of the lives of people who work to bring the vanilla beans to the buyers. There is also information on how the scent of vanilla might help with weight loss.

"Before the beans can be measured and bundled they need to go into drying boxes for another eight months, and all the while they are shrinking as they lose their original moisture, so that five or six kilograms of green beans will weigh just one kilogram when dried." ~ pg. 157

If you have any interest in the history of the Mexican vanilla orchid then this book might be one you'll love to read. You may also be interested in:

Lotus Light Pure Essential Oils - Vanilla 1 oz - Fragrance Oils

Philosophy Vanilla Birthday Cake Lip Shine

12 Madagascar Vanilla Beans

Vanilla Extract, Pure (Madagascar) 4fl.oz.

Anne Willan: From My Chateau Kitchen- a recipe for infusing a pineapple with vanilla using vanilla beans

~The Rebecca Review
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on April 21, 2016
I rarely write reviews but this book is atrocious. It's basically a 270 page book that could be chopped into 100 pages. The author seems to go on fact-finding trips, finds nothing of intrigue, and writes a chapter that doesn't even need to be over there. Self-indulgent writing. Long-winded descriptions with minimal relevant facts. Loosely researched. Largely a bore. Stay away.
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on January 8, 2015
I became obsessed with vanilla orchids and love this book. Recommended.
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on June 13, 2010
This was a most interesting history of vanilla production and development. The author did an excellent job.
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